One of the most publicized tragedies of the 1990s is one of the top series on Netflix at the moment. Waco, the miniseries that originally premiered on the Paramount Network in 2018, tells the cautionary tale of a 51-day siege between the Branch Davidians and the FBI/ATF that ended in a tragic fire that killed 76 of the compound’s residents, including 25 children.
One of the people who perished was Rachel Koresh, portrayed by Melissa Benoist on the show. The legal wife of leader David Koresh, Rachel was only 23 when the siege occurred, and her story begins and ends at the Mount Carmel compound in Waco. Here’s what we know about the young wife before she died in the fire.
She grew up spending summers at the Mount Carmel compound.
Born Rachel Jones, she and her family, already believers in the Branch Davidian movement, spent their summers at the Mount Carmel compound when it was being used as a summer. It was during this time that David Koresh, then Vernon Wayne Howell, joined the compound, and the two eventually wed when she was fourteen-years-old. She and Koresh shared two children, Cyrus and Starr.
She initially wasn’t okay with Koresh sleeping with other women in the compound.
During his time as leader of the Branch Davidians, Koresh taught his parishioners that he was destined to father 24 children who would eventually become the rulers of the world after the apocalypse. Despite having a legal wife, he felt this gave him the “right’ to have sex with other women residing at the compound, including Rachel’s younger sister Michelle.
David Thibodeau wrote about the situation in his memoir, mentioning that Koresh had a “vision” while touring Israel to start having sex with Michelle. Rachel initially didn’t agree with this, but only when she had a dream Koresh dying by not following his dream did she allow him to take her sister for another wife (The situation regarding its legality plays out in the second episode of the miniseries).
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The FBI had recordings of conversations between Rachel and David Koresh.
At some point during the siege, the FBI found a way to bug the compound and record conversations between Koresh and whomever he was speaking to at the time. Some of the transcripts were between Koresh and his wife, and at one point Koresh could be heard telling his wife to control the children.
Throughout her entire marriage, there never seemed to be any indication that she questioned her husband’s motives for behaving the way he did. “She was born into the church and that was all she had ever known,” Benoist told Collider in 2018. “I still approached [portraying] Rachel with an open mind and an empathetic heart. There’s no other way to tell her story.”
She lost some of her immediate family during the siege.
In the initial shootout in February 1993, she lost her father, Perry Jones. The Washington Post reported at the time that Jones was the chief runner of Koresh, alongside working in construction around Waco. Two months later, in the fire that wiped out the majority of the Branch Davidians, Rachel, Michelle and her brother David (one of Koresh’s “mighty men”) all perished, along with Rachel’s and Michelle’s young children.
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